Former NSA analyst charged in leak of classified documents to reporter

(Tim Evanson / Flickr / Wikimedia Commons)

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A former National Security Agency analyst has been charged and arrested for illegally obtaining classified national defense information, including files on drone warfare, and disclosing it to a reporter.

The charges, which were filed originally in March of this year in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, include obtaining, retaining, transmitting, and causing the communication of national defense information, disclosure of classified communications intelligence information, and theft of government property. The Department of Justice unsealed the charges against the former analyst, Daniel Hale of Tennessee, Thursday.

Some of the documents that Hale illegally obtained and shared with the reporter detailed top secret information the NSA gathered on specific named targets, several counterterrorism operations, an overseas military campaign targeting al-Qaeda, and the effects of that operation. At least one document revealed classified technical capabilities of the U.S. military.

Hale served in the U.S. Air Force from 2009-13, during which he was assigned to the NSA in late 2011 into May 2013. After leaving active duty, he worked as a Leidos contractor for the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGA) from 2013-14. He began communicating with the reporter in 2013 while at the NSA, according to the indictment. Hale allegedly printed out and shared six classified documents while he was working for the NGA in 2014 as a political geography analyst, each of which the reporter’s news outlet later published. Based on information referenced in the indictment, the publication is likely the website the The Intercept.

Betsy Reed, the editor in chief of The Intercept, said the publication “does not comment on matters relating to the identity of anonymous sources” in a statement. Reed goes on today the documents in the indictment “detailed a secret, unaccountable process for targeting and killing people around the world, including U.S. citizens, through drone strikes. They are of vital public importance, and activity related to their disclosure is protected by the First Amendment.” Reed labels Hale “an alleged whistleblower.”

Hale’s attorney, Jesselyn Radack, said the allegations against him “are allegations of whistleblowing,” according to The Washington Post. “The Intercept’s reporting on the U.S. government’s secretive drone assassination program shed much needed light on a lethal program in dire need of more oversight.”

Hale would print a total of 36 documents from his Top Secret computer at the NGA, at least 17 of which he shared with the reporter or the reporter’s news outlet, according to the charging document. About two dozen were unrelated to Hale’s work at the NGA. Hale and the reporter communicated via encrypted messenger Jabber at least three times between September of 2013 and February of 2014.

Hale allegedly stored classified information in his home on two thumb drives, one of which contained a page, from a classified document he printed, marked “SECRET” which he had allegedly tried to delete. The other thumb drive had Tor browser software and the Tails operating system on it, both of which the news outlet had recommended as ways to anonymously leak documents.

While working at the NSA, Hale held a Top Secret and Sensitive Compartmented Information (TS/SCI) security clearance, which he was required to maintain while working for the NGA, per the indictment. He had allegedly received training on the proper handling, marking, transportation, and storage of classified information, and the indictment alleges that when Hale obtained the documents, he knew the information he would share would be disposed of unlawfully.

Leidos told CyberScoop in a statement it “is deeply committed to protecting customer information and has zero tolerance for any behavior that might compromise the security of our customers’ data. Earlier today, we learned of the arrest of a former employee. We have been supporting, and will continue to fully support, the law enforcement investigation.”

Leidos was just awarded an $85.5 million contract with the NGA this February for nine NGA mission applications, and was also awarded seven task orders to be executed over five-years worth $250 million. Leidos reported annual revenues of about $10.19 billion for the fiscal year ending December 2018.

Hale, who was set to appear in court Thursday, faces imprisonment for up to 50 years — 10 years for each of the five charges he faces. A federal district court judge will determine his sentence.

-In this Story-

classified information, Daniel Hale, drones, Leidos, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), National Security Agency (NSA), The Intercept, Tor, warfare
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